Once again the barbarians have attacked the West. This time a gunman named Omar Mateen walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and killed fifty people. Jo Comerford at Moveon.org places the blame for this atrocity squarely on where it belongs, on the gun Mateen used.
At least 50 people were killed last night in a horrific mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, FL. At least another 53 were injured.1 As the news continues to peel back the layers on this terrible, tragic shooting and we grieve and mourn with Orlando, we must act now for common sense gun laws and to ban assault rifles. We must stop these mass shootings from tearing apart our communities.Click here to sign the petition, which says:
Military-grade assault weapons should not be used by civilians and have no place in our cities and towns.
—Jo, Anna, Justin K., Ben O., and the rest of the team
I can make a list of places too: Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris, London, Copenhagen, New York. What do all of these places have in common? They were each the site of a horrific attack by Islamic barbarians intent on overthrowing the West and its ideals of freedom and tolerance. We are at war with savages and the solution that the Moveon.org has is to disarm our population and make us all helpless for the next attack.
This is the only solution people on the left offer after every attack. Appease the Muslims. Don’t make them angry. Don’t publish drawings of Mohammed. Don’t criticize or make fun of Islam. Treat the Koran with respect. Women, cover yourselves lest you arouse a Muslim man and cause him to rape you. Christians, pray in private lest you offend the sensitive ears of Muslims. Don’t suggest that immigration from Muslim countries be curtailed or that perhaps Mosques with ties to radicals should be watched. That is islamophobia. Respect Islamic customs and traditions and don’t expect that respect to be returned. Give in when they demand that Sharia law be imposed. Above all else, do not ever suggest that Islam is not a Religion of Peace or they will attack. Remember it is better to die than to live and be considered an islamophobe.
I expect that in the wake of the Orlando Massacre, the gays will be asked to go back into the closet. Its all very well to stand up to Christians who do not approve of gay marriage. The Christians are not going to start bombing and shooting. Standing up to Muslims who want to kill gays might take real courage. They might target us instead. Better to blame the guns.
Once again the civilized world has been attacked by barbarians, this time in Paris. I suppose that once again we will have the usual reactions, politicians promising action while carefully refraining from mentioning the religious ideology that inspired this attack, vague condemnations of the work of violent extremists while never noting just how high the actual percentage of the followers of the Religion that Must Not Be Named might be considered “extremists”. The left will, in fact already has, placed the blame squarely where it belongs, the racism and Islamophobia of the right. If only the extreme right in Europe and America were not so hateful, those nice Muslims would live in peace. There will also be the usual round of anti-terrorism rallies and candle light vigils, prayers and Facebook widgets to express support for France and the rest of the silly, sentimental exercises to show how sad we are over this tragedy.
How about we do something different this time? How about we take action to stop these attacks from happening? To start with, would it be too much to expect for the political leaders of Europe, especially Angela Merkel to reconsider the policy of allowing tens of thousands of refugees from Syria into Europe. This may be the compassionate thing to do, but under current circumstances in the Middle East, it may not be the sensible thing to do. It does not take a tactical genius to realize that masses of people streaming into Europe provides an excellent opportunity to smuggle in operatives. There is no easy way to differentiate between refugees and terrorists and no way to guarantee that even Muslim not currently linked to terrorism might not get religion someday with deadly results.
Can we also at long last admit that we, the civilized world that is, have a problem with Islam. Not violent extremism or radical Islam, but with Islam. It is true that only a small minority of Muslims are actually terrorists and it may even be that only a minority of Muslims support terrorist acts as happened in Paris, though public opinion polls suggest otherwise, but the numbers do not matter. The problem is not individual Muslims who have the same mixture of good and evil as any other population The problem is with Islam. Islam, more than any other religion, justifies violence, particularly against the outsider in its scripture, theology, and doctrines. Yes, Christians, Jews, etc. commit violence and may even use religion to justify their actions. Yet they will not get the same sort of support from their religious leaders and traditions that a Muslim who commits violence might. A Christian who bombs an abortion clinic and kills people will find himself denounced from every pulpit in the country. Even the most zealous pro-life activist will reject his actions. A Muslim who bombs a nightclub or shoots a theater full of hostages will all too often find himself celebrate as a holy martyr in mosques around the world. The moral equivalency between Islamic terrorism in our time and atrocities committed by Christians, in defiance of Christ’s teachings, in centuries past, which is being ceaselessly offered by progressives ignorant of both history and religion simply is not valid. Islam is a problem in the same way that Nazism or Communism was, a violent ideology deeply hostile to our democratic, liberal values. Yes, there are a great many good Muslims, just as their were a great many good Nazis and Communists, but they are still following an evil belief system.
If this admission is still too politically incorrect to make, then can we at least admit that it is better to be considered an islamophobe than to be dead and that protecting the lives of people living in Europe and America might be more important than protecting the tender sensibilities of those who might want to kill them. Whatever is done, we need to be clear in our minds that we are at war with people who want to destroy us and unless we start taking the threat seriously, a lot more people are going to lose their lives.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) plans to call Monday for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to withdraw from the 2016 campaign after the retired neurosurgeon said Islam was not consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that he would “absolutely not” advocate having a Muslim in the White House.
“Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.
“We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”
I can understand if Nihad Awad is more familiar with the details of Sharia law than the US constitution, but the provision barring any religious test does not apply to the voters. They can vote for, or against, a candidate for any office for any reason at all, including not liking the candidate’s religious beliefs. The constitution forbids the federal or state governments from imposing a religious test or qualification to bar candidates from running. For example, in the presidential elections of 1928 and 1960 the Catholics Al Smith and John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency. Many non-Catholic voters did not believe that a Catholic should serve as president and voted for their opponents. That was their decision to make. There was no religious test or qualification to bar either man from running.
Anyway, here is a transcript of some of Dr. Carson’s remarks. See if they are really so controversial, at least among sensible people not blinded by the fear of that bogeyman Islamophobia.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Carson was asked his views on the faith of an American president.
“Should a president’s faith matter – should your faith matter to voters?” asked host Chuck Todd.
“Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is,” replied Carson. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution – no problem.”
“So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?” Todd asked.
“No, I don’t. I do not,” said Carson, adding, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
I am not sure that I would completely agree with Dr. Carson in saying that I would not under any circumstances vote for or support a Muslim candidate for office. Much would depend on the candidate. I am fairly certain, however, that I would not support any candidate of any faith which CAIR would support, given their links to the terrorist organization Hamas and the Islamic supremacist views held by their founder.
Of course, a great many people in the United States expressed similar concerns about the first two Catholic candidates for president. For much of the history of the United States, it was taken for granted, by the Protestant majority, that Roman Catholicism was not compatible with American political values. Such concerns were enough to defeat Al Smith in 1928, among other factors. Kennedy, in 1960, felt a need to address a gathering of Protestant clergymen in Texas to assure them that as president he would put the constitution before his Catholic faith.
This wariness on the part of many Americans, although a product of anti-Catholic prejudice, was not entirely unjustified. Until Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church had not been a consistent supporter of the liberal, democratic values this nation was founded upon. (By “liberal” I mean, of course, the political ideology emphasizes human rights, democratic rule, and free market economic, the ideology of the founding fathers and the nineteenth century British Whigs, rather than the ideals of the socialist progressives who hijacked the term in the early twentieth century. Ironically, it is the conservatives in America that uphold classically liberal values, while the liberals in America cling to primitive collectivism) The Papacy had also been suspicious of every political idea that had been developed in the wake of the American and French revolutions, denouncing such ideas as democracy, government by the consent of the governed, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, as errors and part of the heresy of modernism. As late as 1864, Pope Pius IX had denounced all such modern, secular ideologies in his Syllabus of Errors, to the considerable embarrassment of American Catholics, who had been at pains to show that being a good Catholic was compatible with being a good American. It wasn’t until Vatican II that the Church became reconciled with liberalism.
Of course, the truth was that while American Catholics looked to Rome for spiritual leadership, few, if any, American Catholics took advice on how to vote from the pope. There was no movement among American Catholics to replace the constitution with a theocracy ruled by the Pope. Then too, the Roman Catholic Church was itself a major part of the Judeo-Christian heritage on which Western civilization was based, and this heritage included the concept of the human dignity of even the lowest person in society who had rights granted by his creator. If the Catholic Church was slow to accept the development of liberal ideas, Catholic philosophers had at least laid the basis for them. Even the concept of separation of church and state is implied in Christianity with Jesus saying such things as, “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and was enunciated in Pope Gelasius I’s Duo Sunt which held that princes and bishops each had their own separate spheres.
Perhaps the Muslims are in a similar position as Catholics before the election of Kennedy. Islam may seem incompatible with American political values, but that does not mean that individual Muslims may not be good Muslims and good Americans, just as many American Catholics were both good Americans and good Catholics. I am skeptical, though. Islam is not part of the heritage of our Western civilization and considering the utter failure of liberal democracy taking root in the Islamic world and the abysmal human rights records of most majority Muslim countries, one could make a very good argument that Islamic political values are opposed to and hostile to Western values. In Islam a person is a slave of God, not a son to be redeemed by sacrifice. Sons have rights, slaves do not. It is not surprising, then, that individual human rights have never been very prominent in Islamic political theory. Mohammed was a prince as well as prophet, so there is no concept of separation of mosque and state. It seems to me that while one can be either a good American or a good Muslim, it must be very difficult to be both a good American and a good Muslim. And, unlike the situation with the American Catholics, there are Islamic organizations, like CAIR, that would like to replace the constitution with Sharia law, and a disturbing number of American Muslims who support that idea.
I wouldn’t necessarily refuse to vote for a Muslim candidate on the basis of his faith, but I think that Dr. Carson is closer to the truth of the matter than CAIR, or the foolish would-be dhimmis who denounce honest discussion as Islamophobia.
In its first publication following the Jan. 7 attack on its Paris office, in which two Muslim gunmen massacred 12 people, the once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.
French President Francois Hollande, apparently, disagrees. He defendsCharlie Hebdo‘s latest depiction of Mohammed by saying that protesters in other countries don’t understand France’s embrace of free speech.
But even as Hollande defends Charlie Hebdo‘s right to publish images of Mohammed that many Muslims consider sacrilegious and hateful, his government has imprisoned dozens of people who have condemned the magazine with talk the French won’t tolerate. Those arrested are accused of speaking in support of the attack on the magazine, and a separate assault on a kosher store in Paris by a lone Muslim gunman with links to the men who attacked Charlie Hebdo.
While the Obama administration condemned these deadly attacks, it probably wasn’t surprised. Two years ago, then-press secretary Jay Carney questioned the judgment ofCharlie Hebdo‘s editors when they published an offensive depiction of Mohammed. That came a year after the newspaper’s office was firebombed when it tauntingly named Mohammed its guest editor. That portrayal came with a caption that read: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”
In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.
If Charlie Hebdo‘s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo‘s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.
The principle that Mr. Wickham seems to be enunciating seems to be that freedom of speech is all very well unless someone is upset by what is being spoken or written, in which case, that speech should be suppressed. I wonder if he has really thought through the implications of this principle. If the idea that only speech that offends no one should be permitted is applied even-handedly, than only the blandest sort of platitudes can be allowed, given that there are so many people offended by seemingly innocent expressions. Of course, this principle of forbidding “toxic talk” cannot be even-handedly applied even with the best efforts. In practice, it will be those quick to use force, either violent or otherwise whose feelings will be spared. A pornographic portrayal of Jesus or Buddha is permitted. Christians and Buddhists do not usually respond to insults with bombs or guns. A pornographic portrayal of Mohammed is forbidden. Muslims often respond to insults with murderous rage.
Mr. Wickham justifies this sort of distinction by invoking the example of a man crying fire in a crowded theater. The editors of Charlie Hebdo knew that their cartoons would provoke violence that would create a clear and present danger to the peace. Therefore, their fighting words should be prohibited. He further accuses the French authorities of hypocrisy in defended Charlie Hebdo’s free speech rights while denying the rights of those who have called for violence against the magazine. I do not think that DeWayne Wickham really understands the meaning of the phrase inciting to violence nor does he appear to make a distinction between speech that someone may find offensive and speech that calls for violence against a person perceived to be causing offense. The former must be permitted or there is no freedom of speech. The latter must be forbidden or the violent will deny freedom of speech.
I will try to explain what I mean. If I am addressing a rally of the Ku Klux Klan and I state that everyone in the audience should go out and kill an African-American ( I know what word they would really use, but nevermind.) that would clearly be an incitement to violence. If someone actually did kill someone afterwards, I might be considered legally responsible. I would certainly be morally responsible. Clearly, such speech ought not to be allowed. If, on the other hand, I made the statement that African-Americans were all stupid, that would not be an incitement to violence, even if such a statement would certainly be offensive to an African-American reporter covering the rally. If that reporter jumped up onto the podium and punched me in the face, he would be arrested and charged with assault. The fact that he found my speech offensive would not be considered justification for his action, although a jury might not convict him. The Black reporter would be responsible for his action, not me. The statement that African-Americans are all stupid is protected speech, even if the statement is offensive and even hateful.
In like fashion, Charlie Hebdo is not responsible for the actions of Muslims who find its cartoons offensive. They do not have to read the magazine. They can publish their own magazine mocking the sort of people the cartoonists and editors are likely to be. To blame Charlie Hebdo for their actions is really rather insulting since it implies that those people are savages who cannot really be responsible for their actions. To argue that this magazine should be in any way suppressed because of the threat of violence is giving the violent a veto over our speech and thus ending the concept of free speech. One might think that the dean of a school of journalism would understand that.
That’s what everyone is saying in support of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Right now everyone is standing up for the editors and cartoonists’ right to satirize and ridicule whatever they choose even in the face of violence. I am afraid, however, that once the dust settles and the shock and memory of the recent attack fades, there is going to be an almost irresistible temptation for some people to blame the victim and propose craven counsels. The cartoonists and editors brought their trouble upon themselves, the argument will run. They should have known better than to mock the prophet of such an easily offended and potentially violent following. Certainly, they have a right to print whatever they want, but surely they should exercise some degree of prudence and only mock safe targets, like the Pope.
Consider this partial transcript of a White House press briefing, provided by Breitbart.com, from a earlier time when Charlie Hebdo published offensive cartoons way back in September 19, 2012.
REPORTER: The French government has decided to temporarily close their embassies and schools in several Muslim countries after a satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Is the White House concerned that those cartoons might further fan the flames in the region?
CARNEY: Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution.
In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.
Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence. Now, we have been staying in close touch with the French government as well as other governments around the world, and we appreciate the statements of support by French government officials over the past week, denouncing the violence against Americans and our diplomatic missions overseas.
Sure, they have a right to publish what they want, but they shouldn’t if what they publish leads to violent objections. As a call for freedom of speech and the press, this is somehow not quite as bold as Voltaire’s apocryphal, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, or even Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty, or give me death”. It seems more like, “Give me liberty, unless someone is offended enough to shoot or bomb me.” Ian Tuttle has some more recent examples of this rush to blame the victims, National Review Online.
The reason that Muslim terrorists attack publications like Charlie Hebdo is because they have good reason to believe that such attacks will be successful in achieving the goal of silencing criticism of Islam. This strategy wouldn’t work if the political elites in Europe and America really believed in freedom of speech or at least had any real courage in confronting the threat that Islam poses to Western civilization. As it is, they are all too ready to condemn any criticism of Islam as racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia. The Terrorists hardly needed to bother with shooting anybody. Given time, I am sure the French government or the EU would have been happy to shut down Charlie Hebdo for its hate speech.
The problem with this sort of censorship against commenting on an increasingly obvious threat is that it cannot work in the long run. The average French, German, or British citizen is aware that there is a problem, no matter how much his betters try to reassure him. If the mainstream parties and politicians of Europe will not address the problem with reasonable solutions, European voters might well turn to the people who will talk about it, the real racists and fascists. Their solution is not likely to be reasonable or pretty, though perhaps more desirable than a Islamized Europe.
Some recent events in Africa, the death sentence for a young woman from Sudan for being a Christian, and Boko Haram‘s kidnapping of more than two hundred schoolgirls has elicited condemnations from people around the world, including some in the West who believe that any criticism of Islam counts as islamophobia. I suppose that would be too much to hope that these people will finally make the connection and realize that we, the civilized world, really do have a problem with Islam. No doubt they will mouth the usual platitudes about Islam being a religion of peace and explain that these detestable deeds are the actions of ‘extremists’ such that are found in any religion. Well, people of virtually every religion have committed atrocious deed in the name of their gods, yet somehow these days, this seems to happen far more often among the practitioners of one particular religion, Islam. The question that needs to be answered is whether violence , terrorism and intolerance are bugs, problems with misunderstanding the teachings of religion, or features, understanding the teachings of the religion all too well.
Before going any further, I would like to deal with a particular idea that I have seen in various places, the idea that Islam is where Christianity was several centuries ago. This notion has more to do with vague ideas about moral progress than with any serious study of the comparative histories of the two faiths. The idea seems to be that there is a definite direction to history in continuing moral improvement. This seems true enough. We no longer have slavery or burn witches. Still, I am not convinced that there has been any real change in human nature. We do not have slaves because we have machines. If our machines were to fail us, slavery, or some form of unfree labor would make a swift comeback. The history of the doctrines of every religions alternate between periods of comparative laxity and rigor. The more rigorous periods do not necessarily coincide with violence and intolerance. It is difficult to imagine a religious revival among the Jains or the Quakers producing suicide bombers. The idea that Islam is somehow behind Christianity and less morally developed is condescending and doesn’t really explain why Islamic rigor is more associated with violence than Buddhist or Christian rigor.
This idea also ignores the very real differences in the teachings of the two faiths. Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Mohammed agreed and added that dying by the sword in the cause of Allah was the greatest fate any man could hope for. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Mohammed was a political and military leader as well as a prophet. A Christian who commits an act of terror is acting against the teachings of his Savior. A Muslim who commits an act of terrorism is following the instructions of his prophet.
I don’t recommend that you take my word for this. Consider that Sudanese woman. She has been sentenced to death for apostasy, leaving Islam. Almost everyone in the West finds any punishment at all for apostasy to be an infringement of religious liberty. In the Middle East, the death penalty for apostasy enjoys wide support. Here is a defense of the death penalty for apostasy from what seems to be a fairly reasonably religious authority. Read the Koran. It is full of incitements to violence, especially Sura 9.
Consider these stories about Mohammed and his companions.
The apostle said, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.” Thereupon Muhayyisa leapt upon Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant with whom they had social and business relations, and killed him. Huwayyisa was not a Muslim at the time, though he was the elder brother. When Muhayyisa killed [the Jew] Huwayyisa began to beat him, saying, “You enemy of God, did you kill him when much of the fat on your belly comes from his wealth?” Muhayyisa answered, “Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you I would have cut your head off.” This was the beginning of Huwayyisa’s acceptance of Islam… [Huwayyisa] replied exclaimed, “By God, a religion which can bring you to this is marvelous!” and he became a Muslim. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 554)
When he asked who I was I told him that I was one of the [Muslims]. Then he laid down beside me and lifting up his voice began to sing: “I won’t be a Muslim as long as I live, nor heed to their religion give.”
I said (to myself) ‘you will soon know’ and as soon as the badu was asleep and snoring I got up and killed him in a more horrible way than any man has been killed. I put the end of my bow in his sound eye, then I bore down on it until I it out at the back of his neck. (al-Tabari 1440)
When he [Muhammad] asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr bin al-Awwam, “Torture him until you extract what he has.” So he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad bin Maslama and he struck off his head.” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 764)
Allah’s Apostle said, “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” The Prophet said, “Yes,” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka’b). “The Prophet said, “You may say it.” (Bukhari 59:369)
There are man, many more. These stories are from the hadiths, anecdotes about Mohammed’s sayings and deeds. These stories were transmitted orally for over a hundred years before Muslim scholars began to write them down. There is no way to know if any one of these anecdotes is a true account, if the story has become corrupt after numerous retellings, or if it has simply been fabricated. The scholars who collected these hadiths were aware of this problem and rejected many that they believed to be spurious. Even the ones that they collected were felt to have varying degrees of reliability. It doesn’t matter, though. The important point here is that these were actions that the first generations of Muslims believed to be worthy of approval and imitation. Violence in the name of Islam was something approved of and even part of the attraction of the faith. Read that first story again. Huwayyisa was so impressed by the willingness of his brother to kill a family friend that he immediately converted. (Either that or he was afraid his brother would kill him if he didn’t convert.) To the early Muslims, fighting was a way to get plunder in this life and paradise in the hereafter. Mohammed approved of violence and since he is considered to be the ideal for every Muslim to emulate, his followers ought also to approve of violence.
To answer the question then, violence and intolerance are features of Islam, not bugs.
The sentiment here is that all of the various religions are essentially the same and therefore we shouldn’t fight over religious differences because they are not really very important. Well, we shouldn’t fight over religious differences not because they are unimportant, but because no one has ever discovered the truth or been convinced by people shouting past one another.
In a superficial sense, the sentiment expressed by this picture is true. Most of the great religions have rather similar expectations on how people ought to be behave. They all preach variations on statements like, “do not kill”, “do not steal”, “treat others as you would want to be treated”, and others. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. If right and wrong really exist and are not merely social conventions then you might expect people all over the world to have similar rules, even if they seldom follow them. As the apostle Paul stated,
14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:14-16)
Actually, religion is not really about morality. You can be a moral person of any faith or of no faith at all, if the law is truly written on human hearts. Religion is about approaching or coming to know God, again as Paul says,
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring. (Acts 17:22-28)
This is another way in which the sentiment expressed in the picture is superficially true. All of the great religions teach that there is something more than the material world that we sense. In most cases they teach that there is a god or gods or some divine principle that rules the universe and is the source of all goodness.
In the more profound sense, however, the sentiment that all religions are essentially the same is simply not true. Every religious tradition makes claims about the nature of the divine principle and these claims tend to be exclusive ones. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in one God, but Jews and Muslims are uncompromising monotheists with a simple view of God as One. The Christian view is more complicated involving three Persons in one Godhood, with one of the Persons becoming a man named Jesus. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but deny his divinity. Jews reject both Jesus and Mohammed as prophets. Muslims also regard the Christians and Jews as having corrupted their holy texts while their Koran is the true Word of God. Many Hindus believe in many gods but also believe that the many are one universal spirit. Many Hindus believe otherwise as it it is a diverse religion. Buddhists are unconcerned about gods seeking to liberate themselves from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, but many Buddhists worship traditional deities. There are many other beliefs. They cannot all be true.
Do these differences matter? I think they do. If religion is a means of coming to know the creator of the universe, then we had better have accurate information about Him. If I decided to travel to California, I had better go west. If I go north or south or east, I’ll never get there. If I decide to fly to California, I’ll get there quickly. Driving will take a little longer. Walking would take a very long time, weeks or months, assuming I manage to get there at all. If I decide to go to Australia, I am going to have to fly in an airplane, or go by boat. I cannot drive or walk to Australia, no matter how much I might want to. In like fashion, if I want to know about God, I should try to go in the right direction and take the right means of travel. Some might say that is doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere. Well, I could sincerely believe that I could get to Australia by walking north. I would be sincerely wrong and never reach Australia.
So, does God care what name we call Him? Perhaps not, but He does want us to know Him and He does want to save us from our own sins and bad decisions. If the Christian beliefs are correct, then God is good, infinitely good, and we humans are not. By our nature and our actions, we have estranged ourselves from God and there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves with him. Fortunately, He has provided a means by which we can be reconciled by the sacrifice of His Son. The problem with all the other religions as well as that vague sentiment that all religions are equal is that by following their precepts, we may come to believe that we can approach God and be saved by our own efforts, through rituals, good deeds and the like. God is infinitely good however, and He is not likely to be impressed by anything we do. As Isaiah wrote,
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Isaiah 64:6)
Or, to put it a little less dramatically, no matter how good we think we are, next to God we aren’t really very good at all. We cannot save ourselves. We have to trust in God to save us.
Earlier this month, Islamic member nations of the United Nations Human Rights Council rejected as un-Islamic a resolution condemning violence against women. The Kuwait News Agency reported that “the rejections include the paragraph, which gives women ‘the right to control matters concerning their sexual lives as well as their reproductive health without coercion, discrimination or violence.’”
It is likely that this rejection had as much or more to do with the idea that women should be protected from coercion and violence as it may have had to do with any pro-life concerns. After all, the Qur’an directs men to beat disobedient women (4:34), while Islamic law allows for abortion at least early in the pregnancy. The Muslim scholar Sayyid Sabiq explains that,
abortion is not allowed after four months have passed since conception because at that time it is akin to taking a life, an act that entails penalty in this world and in the Hereafter. As regards the matter of abortion before this period elapses, it is considered allowed if necessary.
The idea that it is un-Islamic for women to have the right to be free from coercion and violence is revealing of the mindset underlying the entire Islamic understanding of morality. Muslims and non-Muslims often tell us that Muslims hate the West for its decadence, its immorality, its lasciviousness, which they contrast unfavorably with the supposed morality and uprightness of the Islamic world. Often this boils down to a Muslim critique of Western “freedom,” especially as Bush and Obama pursued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan ostensibly to bring Western-style freedom to those countries.
In line with that, the mufti of Australia, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, once complained that “Australian law guarantees freedoms up to a crazy level.” Yet genuine freedom is an indispensable prerequisite for any cultivation of real virtue.
Even the post-Christian West makes it more possible to be virtuous than the apparently much more straitlaced Islamic world. With its stonings, amputations, and death penalties for an array of offenses including apostasy, Islam has created – even in the family itself — not a framework in which people can become genuinely good, but an empire of fear. People don’t dare step out of line, not out of an authentic understanding that the path of moral and ethical uprightness is preferable to the alternative, much less out of love for God or a real desire to please him, but because they are afraid of what would happen to them if they did depart from Islam’s vision of morality.
He has more to say. With all that in mind, I think it might be interesting to consider how the subtle differences between the Judeo-Christian and the Islamic view of God ties into the question of freedom and virtue.
In Christian and Jewish theology, God is considered to be not only omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), but also omni-benevolent (entirely good). As God is wholly good and has no evil in Him, God cannot commit an evil act. To do so would be contrary to His nature. An Islamic theologian cannot say that. It is not that Muslims believe that God is evil or indifferent. Islam is, as C. S. Lewis said of Christianity, a fighting religion with a God who takes sides. The problem that Muslims have with saying that God cannot commit an evil act lies in their conception of God as all-powerful.
All three Abrahamic religions believe God to be omnipotent. Islam, however, emphasizes divine omnipotence quite a lot more than the other two religions. Muslims, therefore, are uncomfortable with any concept that seems to put a limit on God’s absolute sovereignty and divine freedom. Saying that God cannot do a thing or has any limits seems to be blasphemy. God cannot be constrained in any way or by any thing, not even by natural laws or logic. God may be good but there is no reason why He could not command something evil, arbitrary, or even irrational. Islam also teaches the unknowability of God by mere humans. No human being can know anything about God or His nature. This means that such statements as the apostle John is fond of using such as God is love or God is Light, or identifying God with the Logos or Reason are meaningless to the Muslim and, again, may even be blasphemous. We cannot know God. We can only know His will for us. Islamic theologians have not spent much time debating the nature of God, as Christians have with their disputes over the trinity and how Jesus can be both God and man. Islamic theology is more focused on legal matters and regulations for the believer.
These concepts might be the reason that Islamic political history is largely a history of despotism. If God is absolute with no constraints on His authority, then it stands to reason that rulers, God’s representatives, should also have absolute authority. There is, as far as I know, no Magna Carta in Islam, and certainly no Declaration of Independence with its inalienable rights. Muslims believe that humans are the slaves of God, while Christians believe that we are His Sons. Sons have rights. Slaves do not.
This also puts an interesting twist on the Euthyphro dilemma. Euthypho is a character in Plato’s dialog of that name. Socrates and Euthypho meet each other at a law court while they each are waiting for the court to hear their cases, in Socrates’s case the trial that would cost him his life. Since Euthypho is presented as an expert theologian who knows all about the gods, Socrates asks to define piety or holiness and the two begin the dialog. During the discussion Socrates asks whether the gods love pious acts because they are pious or are things pious because the gods love them. In other words, and moving to monotheism, does God command us to do good things because they are good, or are good actions good because God commands them. For instance, one of the ten commandments that God gave to Moses was, “Thou shalt not kill”. Did God forbid killing because killing is inherently evil, or is killing evil because God forbade it.
You may see the dilemma here. If the things that God wishes us to do are good in themselves, then does that not imply that there is some source of morality higher than God? On the other hand if good actions are good simply because those are the actions God happens to approve of, then the ideas of good and evil become arbitrary. God could just as easily told Moses, “Thou shalt kill”.
There have been a number of ways that both Christians and Jews have attempted to resolve this dilemma. I think that, in general, Christians and Jews tend to favor the first answer, that God’s commands are good in themselves and that for God to command or commit an evil act would be contrary to His nature. God can no more do evil than a triangle could have four sides. Islamic theology compels a Muslim to favor the second answer. Thus, there is a tendency to believe that God’s commands are somewhat arbitrary and subject to change. Indeed in the Koran, later commands replace or abrogate earlier commands.
I gone somewhat far afield, so perhaps I should try to tie in what I have written with Robert Spencer’s argument. If you consider the ultimate source of morality is not some abstract concept of justice but the somewhat arbitrary commands of the supreme deity then wouldn’t it stand to reason that you might adopt a sort of “might makes right” and “ends justify the means” sort of moral code? And, wouldn’t you come to believe that virtue is something that must be imposed from outside, rather than something that each person must develop from within? That is something to consider.
What the Koran Really Says is a somewhat misleading title for Ibn Warraq’s book since the subject is not Islamic theology or Koranic exegesis. What this book is instead, is an anthology of articles dealing with various aspects of the Koran’s origins, history, linguistics, and textual criticism. For a number of reasons, the Koran has not been subjected to textual and literary criticism nearly as much as the Bible and the papers reprinted in What the Koran Really Says help to fill that lack somewhat.
There are political and cultural reasons that the Koran has not been as thoroughly analyzed as the Bible, but one of the main reasons has to be the simple fact that the history and language of the Koran is far more opaque that the Bible’s. The text of the Koran is often very hard to understand, even by native speakers of Arabic and the way the texts jumps from subject to subject within every sura and even within paragraphs suggests a haphazard and complicated history of composition and editing.
The Greek New Testament was written in the context of a highly literate culture with a historical and cultural background fairly well known to the historian. We know more about the events of the first century AD than about almost any other period in the ancient world. The Hebrew Old Testament is older and the circumstances of its composition are somewhat more obscure, but Palestine or Israel is on the cross-road between Asia and Africa and we can gain a fairly accurate idea of the history of the region from the records left by the Egyptians and the various Mesopotamian states, not to mention from the Israelites themselves.
The Koran, on the other hand, was created by a semi-literate people who lived on the fringes of the major civilizations of the time. We have few records of the Arabian Peninsula during the time of Mohammed and for the first century of the Islamic era, beyond traditional Muslim accounts that are difficult to verify. It is possible that almost everything that is said about the composition of the Koran, including the time and place it was revealed, is untrue and in fact, we cannot be certain that Mohammed actually existed or if he did the deeds attributed to him. The language of the Koran is Arabic, but again, many words in the text seem to have been derived from other Semitic languages, and it is not always whether the dialect is that of the Bedouins of central Arabia, as tradition states, or perhaps the language is closer to that of Northern Arabia, where the speakers might be more influenced by Syriac or Aramaic.
The articles presented in What the Koran Really Says deal with these questions and more. They are all very well done and thorough, however they are also intended for an audience of scholars and, as a layman, I sometimes had trouble following them. I think someone more knowledgeable of Arabic grammar and the text of the Koran would get more out of this book than I would. As it is, my attention wandered while reading about the fine points of grammatical constructions or the precise meaning of a sentence. The best and most interesting portions of this book were the introductions written by Ibn Warraq himself and I think he would have done a better service to his readers by writing a book which summarized and explained the arguments found in the various articles.
Still, I cannot complain if the book is not for me. I am certain that any scholar who wishes to study the origins and development of the Koran will find What the Koran Really Says to be a valuable resource.
It has long been an article of faith among many in the West and especially among our learned elites that the vast majority of Muslims are essentially moderate people who want freedom and democracy just as the people of the West do. Terrorists such as Osama bin Ladin and the Tsarnaev brothers who held to be part of a tiny minority of extremists who twist and distort the peaceful teachings of Islam. The problem with this view is that it is simply not true. While the great majority of Muslims are not terrorists and would prefer to live in peace with their neighbors, the truth is that the doctrines of al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood are a lot closer to the mainstream of Islamic teachings than many in the West would like to admit.
There is a recent public opinion poll of the citizens of various Muslim countries which suggests that a large number of people in these countries would prefer to live under Islamic law or Sharia. Here is the story in Yahoo News which was originally published by Reuters.
Large majorities in the Muslim world want the Islamic legal and moral code of sharia as the official law in their countries, but they disagree on what it includes and who should be subject to it, an extensive new survey says.
Suicide bombing was mostly rejected In the study by the Washington-based Pew Forum, but it won 40 percent support in the Palestinian territories, 39 percent in Afghanistan, 29 percent in Eygpt and 26 percent in Bangladesh.
Three-quarters of respondents said abortion is morally wrong and 80 percent or more rejected homosexuality and sex outside of marriage.
Over three-quarters of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia want sharia courts to decide family law issues such as divorce and property disputes, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said on Tuesday.
Views on punishments such as chopping off thieves’ hands or decreeing death for apostates is more evenly divided in much of the Islamic world, although more than three-quarters of Muslims in South Asia say they are justified.
To be fair, it is likely that many of those who support the implementation of Sharia may not realize some of the implications of such rules. It is likely that after a decade or so of living under Sharia, many would come to detest it.
Those punishments have helped make sharia controversial in some non-Islamic countries, where some critics say radical Muslims want to impose it on Western societies, but the survey shows views in Muslim countries are far from monolithic.
“Muslims are not equally comfortable with all aspects of sharia,” the study said. “Most do not believe it should be applied to non-Muslims.”
Unlike codified Western law, sharia is a loosely defined set of moral and legal guidelines based on the Koran, the sayings of Prophet Mohammad (hadith) and Muslim traditions. Its rules and advice cover everything from prayers to personal hygiene.
Amaney Jamal, a Princeton University political scientist who was special adviser for the project, said Muslims in poor and repressive societies tended to identify sharia with basic Islamic values such as equality and social justice.
“In those societies, you tend to see significant support for sharia,” she told journalists on a conference call. By contrast, Muslims who have lived under “narrow if not rigid” Islamic systems were less supportive of sharia as the official law.
Unlike Western law codes which leave a wide space of private actions, Islamic law tends to be totalitarian, in the sense that even private actions and beliefs are covered by the law. If a Man’s home is his castle in the West, under Sharia his home and his life belongs to Allah.
More than four-fifths of the 38,000 Muslims interviewed in 39 countries said non-Muslims in their countries could practice their faith freely and that this was good.
This view was strongest in South Asia, where 97 percent of Bangladeshis and 96 percent of Pakistanis agreed, while the lowest Middle Eastern result was 77 percent in Egypt.
The survey polled only Muslims and not minorities. In several Muslim countries, embattled Christian minorities say they cannot practice their faith freely and are subject to discrimination and physical attacks.
The survey produced mixed results on questions relating to the relationship between politics and Islam.
Democracy wins slight majorities in key Middle Eastern states – 54 percent in Iraq, 55 percent in Egypt – and falls to 29 percent in Pakistan. By contrast, it stands at 81 percent in Lebanon, 75 percent in Tunisia and 70 percent in Bangladesh.
In most countries surveyed, Muslims were more worried about Islamist militancy than any other form of religious violence.
I am sure that if a pollster had asked Whites in the Jim Crow South whether the Blacks were content with their lot, the great majority of Whites would have answered, sincerely, yes. No where in the Islamic world are Christians free to worship as they please. At best they can hope for a grudging tolerance. I have to wonder just what the respondents mean when they talk about democracy. It is no good if they are thinking democracy is a way to vote away other people’s’ rights and liberty. Freedom is more than just having regular elections, even if they are free and honest. In order for a people to be truly free, they have to learn to respect the rights of others. No one wants to be oppressed. The trick is not wanting to oppress other people, especially the despised minority. So far, the human rights situation throughout the Middle East does not lend much support for the idea that the people of that region really understand this. The article ends on a slightly optimistic note.
Views on whether women should decide themselves if they should wear a headscarf vary greatly, from 89 percent in Tunisia and 79 percent in Indonesia saying yes and 45 percent in Iraq and 30 percent in Afghanistan saying no.
Majorities from 74 percent in Lebanon to 96 percent in Malaysia said wives should always obey their husbands.
Only a minority saw Sunni-Shi’ite tensions as a very big problem, ranging from 38 percent in Lebanon and 34 percent in Pakistan to 23 percent in Iraq and 14 percent in Turkey.
Conflict with other religions loomed larger, with 68 percent in Lebanon saying it was a big problem, 65 percent in Tunisia, 60 percent in Nigeria and 57 percent in Pakistan.
A section of the survey on U.S. Muslims noted they “sometimes more closely resemble other Americans than they do Muslims around the world”. Only about half say their closest friends are Muslim, compared to 95 percent of Muslims globally.
So American Muslims are assimilating. That’s good as far as it goes. I hope there is never any sort of religious revival among our Muslim population.